6 months ago

The RESTORE Alabama Agenda

The 2020 regular session of the Alabama state legislature is behind us. Did anyone notice? It was a session marked more by what didn’t happen than by what did. One minute the lobbyists were being paid well to try and get marijuana legalized, state budgets were flush, and gambling bills were once again all that the media could talk about. And then the coronavirus came through like a bullet train on greased rails and Goat Hill became a ghost town.

When the Alabama House and Senate finally returned the only matters given any real attention were social distancing and the quick passage of streamlined budgets. Somewhere in that mix a schism surfaced between the legislature and the governor’s office over the right to sign checks on $1.8 billion in federal relief dollars. In the end, the governor made friends with the House and left the Senate wondering who took their lunch money. It was not a pretty picture, and on that note, the legislature went home.

But there is work yet to be done. Important work. Work that is timely and necessary and the leaders of our wonderful state have been elected to their positions for such a time as this.

The Alabama Policy Institute believes that the governor and legislature should put aside any differences and work collaboratively toward a special session within the next 30 days. There are matters that must be tended to in the wake of the pandemic and its resultant shutdown of our society and the economic engines of private enterprise. API proposes a six point “call” for the governor to consider for which the House and Senate could take swift bipartisan action. This six-point plan of action calls for legal protections, government accountability, increased broadband access, tax relief, lessened license restrictions, and education reform. API presents this proposed agenda as “the RESTORE Alabama Agenda” with RESTORE standing for “Responsible Efficient Solutions To Open and Revive Economy.”

First and foremost, API believes that Senator Orr’s bill to limit the ability to bring frivolous and costly lawsuits against businesses, churches, and non-profits related to alleged corona infection must be given top priority. Without such legislation, it is to be expected that a host of lawsuits will be filed that will only serve to further ravage Alabamians who are just now putting the pieces of the private sector back together.

Secondly, and likely with some potential for controversy, legislation must be passed that puts the Alabama legislature in as much of a position of responsibility for quarantines and economic shutdowns as the governor. To be sure, the office of the governor must be able to declare a state of emergency if and when needed. But no governor should be required to carry that burden alone. And looking at the mess ongoing in other states we must also be aware that future Alabama governors might be less judicious than Governor Ivey and therefore certain checks and balances should be emplaced. API believes that any quarantine or economic shutdown that extends longer than thirty days should require legislative sanction and an equal share of the responsibility that goes with it. Senator Whatley’s prior attempt to pass such a Bill should be resurrected, amended and passed in short order.

As a third point API begins with the question: “Can anyone ever say again that we don’t need to roll out broadband internet capability on a statewide basis?” Our children have been forced to home school. Businesses have taken to daily telecommuting to survive. Alabama’s court system nearly stalled until online hearings were established. Telemedicine is a real thing now. The legislature must convene with the intent to completely blanket the state with internet access that assures its citizens that they will have equal access to education, business, medicine, and the rule of law. Budget amendments should be considered for both the Education Trust Fund and the General Fund with appropriations to cover this measure. To be clear, API does not advocate incurring debt to accomplish this goal. To the extent possible, state leaders should use one-time federal monies from the CARES Act and supplement that as needed with funds from Alabama’s rainy day trust fund. This is too important and the past three months have only made it more apparent of the outright need.

Fourth, we must open the gates a bit wider. On April 2, Governor Ivey rightfully suspended the licensure and certificate of need (“CON”) requirements for medical practitioners and first responders to enable them to more easily come to Alabama’s assistance during the pandemic. And guess what? The sky did not fall. If licensure is a hurdle that must be removed for emergencies then the legislature should consider removing those barriers to essential personnel and medical facilities for more than just this present day. API has long advocated for the reduction of licensure and CON barriers. But for now, the governor should call upon the legislature to enact her current suspension of licensures and CON requirements for the next 12 months to ensure that we get fully past this current crisis. After a year, the leaders of our state can reassess the implementation of both. API calls upon Alabama’s elected officials to remove the barriers that impede private enterprise and restrict the availability of quality healthcare by suspending licensure and CON requirements now.

Fifth is the regeneration of Alabama’s business climate. Economically speaking there is much that can be done in a post-pandemic Alabama to ensure that our citizens have every opportunity for success. State legislators must return to the debate on the renewal of the Alabama Jobs Act to incentivize the growth of existing business and the recruitment of new employers to the state. As we come out of the coronavirus shutdown, this legislation must by necessity also include incentives to small businesses who have suffered losses to invest in their own infrastructure and to hire/rehire from Alabama’s great labor pool. Additionally, tax relief should be granted so that federal funds received for relief do not become taxable income to the state, and to grant an income tax credit for any federal relief for which repayment to the feds is necessary. The governor, the House and the Senate must show the people of Alabama that they will not attempt to earn revenue for government on the backs of suffering private citizens.

Lastly, any post-pandemic review must include a discussion on education. Alabama ranks dead last in the nation for education quality. In just the past week, an independent review of the State Department of Education called for education leaders in Alabama to embrace and own reforms. For the past two months, our children have been forced to adjust on the run, many seniors lost their graduation ceremonies, and if you think that failing schools got better, you’re dreaming. It is time for the legislature to give firm debate to the concept of education savings accounts for any child who is in a failing school to be allowed to move to a school that better serves their needs. Education tax dollars are for the education of the child, not to feed a failing system. This is a fair and equitable solution to a problem that is not going away without game-changing action.

We are getting through this. Alabamians are resilient and we always rise to the occasion. I am mindful of a quote from Andrew Jackson who said, “I was made for the storm, and a calm does not suit me.” The governor and state legislative leaders must gather around the table, break bread, and make a plan. Alabama’s leaders did not create the coronavirus, but they did create the shutdown. Now they must make sure the impediments to the regeneration of Alabama society are not felt because they did not equally embrace responses such as those just proposed. The RESTORE Alabama Agenda can bring that to reality.

Phil Williams, API Director of Policy Strategy and General Counsel, is a former State Senator from Gadsden. For updates, follow him on Twitter at @SenPhilWilliams and visit alabamapolicy.org.

16 mins ago

Judge reduces Hubbard’s prison sentence to reflect overturned convictions

A Lee County circuit judge on Wednesday issued a ruling that significantly reduced former Alabama House Speaker Michael G. “Mike” Hubbard’s prison sentence.

Hubbard in 2016 was convicted on 12 of 23 ethics charges brought against him by the Alabama Attorney General’s Office; he was then sentenced to four years in prison.

One of those 12 convictions was reversed by the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals in August 2018. An additional five convictions were tossed by the Supreme Court of Alabama earlier this year.

This meant that although half of the original convictions were subsequently overturned, Hubbard was still facing the full original prison sentence.

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Hubbard’s legal team in recent months, after he began serving that sentence, requested resentencing. They argued, in part, that the “changed circumstances” of the overturned convictions warranted such an action.

“[I]n the interest of justice, Hubbard respectfully requests that this Court resentence him… The convictions in this case alone have resulted in a wide range of punishments which include his removal from office, the loss of his right to vote, the divestment of his business interests, and his current incarceration,” they wrote.

In his Wednesday order, the Lee County judge noted the overturned convictions in reducing the sentence from four years to 28 months. This represents a sentence reduction of 41.67%.

In a statement, Attorney General Steve Marshall expressed disappointment with the decision to reduce Hubbard’s sentence.

“Mr. Hubbard was convicted of the intentional violation of Alabama’s ethics laws, the same laws he championed in the legislature only later to brazenly disregard for his personal enrichment,” said Marshall.

“Even as he sits in state prison as a six-time felon, Mike Hubbard continues to deny any guilt or offer any remorse for his actions in violation of the law,” the attorney general concluded. “Reducing his original four-year sentence sends precisely the wrong message to would-be violators of Alabama’s ethics laws.”

According to the Alabama Department of Corrections, Hubbard is currently serving his time at Limestone Correctional Center. He has already served two months and sixteen days of his sentence.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

41 mins ago

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne: Timeframe on I-10 Mobile Bay Bridge ‘not unlimited’ — State, local leaders ‘need to do it in the next several months to a year’

Last week, state and local officials in the Mobile and Baldwin County areas had reportedly resumed discussions about a new I-10 Mobile Bay Bridge.

A now-infamous proposal came to a halt last year after the Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organization voted to remove the bridge from the organization’s Transportation Improvement Program, which resulted in Gov. Kay Ivey (R-AL) calling it off.

Questions remain about the future. However, according to U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope), the clock is ticking if the state wants to use available federal money.

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During an interview with Mobile radio FM Talk 106.5’s “The Jeff Poor Show,” Byrne, who has a little over a month remaining in office until U.S. Rep.-elect Jerry Carl (R-Mobile) is sworn in, said it was up to state and local leaders to agree on how to proceed because the federal component had already been settled.

“The real center of gravity here is with local leaders and state leaders,” he said. “It’s really not federal leaders. Jerry Carl doesn’t have to worry about that money that’s been put out there going away in the next couple of years. It’s still going to be there. This is really off federal government, and really on state and local government.”

“It won’t be there forever,” Byrne added. “Now, it might be enhanced if we get some big infrastructure bill comes out in the next year or so. I still think the onus with coming up with most of the money has got to be on the state and local governments here. The state has a lot of money that it gets from the federal government every year from the national highway fund. And it could bond money. You know, I’ve been saying we should bond some of this [Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA) funds] to do it, etc. There is a way to set all this together and make it work. The federal end is done, ready to go. There is state money that can be used for it, that comes from the federal government, including GOMESA money, and there’s a way to put it all together. But it is going to require these local leaders, the new local leaders, working with the governor.”

Byrne urged local and state officials to put a proposal forth within the next year.

“Our timeframe is not unlimited here,” he said. “If they’re going to do something, they need to do it in the next several months to a year — come up with a plan that’s approved, etc. I think the U.S. Department of Transportation will help them to find some way to make this happen because one thing we have accomplished — we’ve got the Department of Transportation, going back to the Obama administration — so it’s not a Democrat or Republican thing — the Department of Transportation has said this is critical for the United States of America. So, we’re teed up with the federal government. We’ve just got to get the state and locals together.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

1 hour ago

This month marks 20 years since all humans were on Earth at the same time

NASA and its international partners — including the many in Alabama — this month marked a new milestone in human spaceflight. It has now been 20 consecutive years since the last time all humans were on the planet Earth at the same time.

Indeed, November 1, 2000, was the most recent day humans dwelled only on our planet. The Expedition 1 crew – NASA astronaut William Shepherd and Russian cosmonauts Sergei Krikalev and Yuri Gidzenko – launched to the International Space Station (ISS) on October 31 of that year, arriving to become the first crew to live aboard the orbiting laboratory on November 2.

NASA and its partners have successfully supported humans living in space aboard the ISS ever since, including Boeing — which has been the lead industry partner for the ISS since 1993.

Boeing has partnered with NASA to help design, build, integrate and — now — manage operations for the ISS. Just this summer, the company received a $916 million contract extension through September 2024 to continue supporting the space station.

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In Alabama, Boeing employees work closely with NASA at Huntsville’s Marshall Space Flight Center and perform sustaining engineering and manufacturing support for the ISS. This work is reportedly critical to proving deep-space technology for future NASA missions and providing a cornerstone for developing and operating commercial enterprises in low Earth orbit.

“Men and women have been working in space for 20 years, an accomplishment that speaks to Boeing and NASA’s commitment to crew safety and widening access to space,” stated John Mulholland, ISS vice president and program manager for Boeing. “The space station is the realization of a dream that has inspired countless generations to reach for the stars, and we will continue to increase its uses as our imaginations catch up with its extraordinary capabilities.”

In its history, the ISS has hosted more than 240 individuals from 19 different countries. Astronauts have conducted 231 spacewalks totaling more than 1,400 hours to build and maintain the station.

The scientific research performed aboard the ISS has come from and affected 108 nations around the world. More than 3,000 experiments have taken place aboard the space station so far.

In the present, the ISS is also newly receiving missions powered by NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Boeing is one of two companies selected as prime contractors on this program. The Boeing Starliner spacecraft used for this program is powered by an Atlas V rocket built by United Launch Alliance in Decatur, Alabama. The Starliner was also designed at Boeing’s Huntsville operations.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 hours ago

Bruce Pearl: ‘I felt terrible’ telling players about self-imposed postseason ban

Auburn University head men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl spoke remotely to the media on Wednesday ahead of the team’s first game of the season.

The Tigers are scheduled to face Saint Joseph’s at 3:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving in the Fort Myers Tip-Off event.

However, the opening contest has been overshadowed this week by Sunday’s announcement that Auburn will forgo postseason competition this season.

Pearl on Wednesday revealed that his players were not made aware of this decision to self-impose a postseason ban before the public was informed.

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“We made them aware as we were announcing it,” he advised. “We just felt like it was something the university wanted to get out in front of. I was telling the players as it was being announced.”

“I had a zoom call set up with their parents for as soon as I finished up with my players. They probably had heard something about it, but they knew they had a call from me, so when they saw it, I’m sure they realized this is what the call was about. It all took place on Sunday afternoon,” Pearl continued.

He also commented on the team’s reaction to the news.

“It’s been a really difficult time. It was a difficult few weeks leading up to the announcement because it was something we had talked about,” Pearl said.

“If there was any comfort, it was their reaction. I got more guys coming up and hugging me because I felt terrible for them. We kept some things in perspective and reminded ourselves – I asked the question beforehand of why did you come to Auburn, and I got a lot of answers about graduating, being an Auburn Man, getting better, maybe have a chance to play professionally, wanting to be part of the Auburn Family – all those things. I was then able to say right before I gave them the information that they’re still going to be able to accomplish almost all of those things,” he added. “This year, we’re not going to be able to compete in the postseason. A couple years ago, after we won the regular season [SEC title], postseason was only a couple of games. Without minimizing it, because it is important and we all work and strive for it, I tried to keep their focus on what they’re trying to get accomplished and why they’re at Auburn as student-athletes. All I can tell you is, it was an amazing response from my players and their parents how we’re going to get through this together.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

6 hours ago

Spend Black Friday shooting clays at Selwood Farm

Play a round of 18 with the family over Thanksgiving weekend — but we’re not talking about golf. Selwood Farm is a family-owned hunting preserve in Alpine, Alabama, that has the state’s first sporting clay course. Thanksgiving weekend is a busy one for Selwood Farm (they’re closed on Thanksgiving Day), including its annual Black Friday event that has become a tradition for many.

For $60 per person, you’ll receive 100 sporting clays, a golf cart to take you through the 18-stand course (and eight additional stands for experienced shooters), and lunch from 2 Men And A Pig barbecue. You’ll also have the opportunity to participate in drawings for prizes including Orca Coolers, Russell Boots, Selwood swag, restaurant gift cards, Dirk Walker Shooting shirts exclusive to Selwood Farm, and more.

“Our Black Friday event is something we started several years ago after discovering that several of the same families made it a tradition to visit Selwood annually the day after Thanksgiving,” says Judith Jager, creative director of Selwood Farm. “We always joke that spending Black Friday at Selwood is much better than spending it at the mall — especially this year with COVID-19. We have loved being an outdoor escape for folks during this time.”

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shooting clay selwood farm
Craig Godwin/Contributed

If you can’t make it for the Friday event, Selwood Farm is open daily except Sundays and offers multiple activities. In addition to the sporting clay course, you can also shoot at the 5-stand, play the only Helice ring in Alabama (a European simulated live bird game), and hunt for quail and pheasant in the preserve’s 800 acres. Currently owned by Dell and Carolyn Hill, Selwood Farm has been a licensed hunting preserve since 1984.

The history of Selwood Farm began in 1834 when James Mallory moved from Virginia to Alpine and settled Selwood. He prospered as a farmer and community leader and the land remained in his family until 1948.

Dell’s father, O.V. Hill, purchased the property and raised cattle, sheep, poultry, and turkeys at Selwood. After Mr. Hill’s death, Dell and Carolyn continued the cattle operation and a smoked turkey mail-order business for more than thirty-five years. The Hills decided to turn the farm into a recreational space when the cattle business was no longer profitable. Selwood was officially designated as a hunting preserve in 1984 and the sporting clays course opened in 1990.

Selwood, which means “the king’s hunting forest,” has become a destination for those both in-state and out. Thousands of people visit Selwood Farm each year to shoot, hunt, host events, or take a vacation. If you’re looking for something to do with the family this Thanksgiving weekend, visiting Selwood Farm is a fun, socially distant outdoor activity that you can feel safe participating in. Plus, it’s something the whole family can enjoy.

“There truly is something for everyone,” says Jager, “even if it is just sitting on our front porch drinking a glass of sweet tea watching the sunset over the Selwood hills.”

clay shooting selwood farm
Selwood Farm/Contributed

Julia Sayers Gokhale is a writer and editor who has been working in the lifestyle journalism industry since 2012. She was Editor in Chief of Birmingham Magazine for five years and is now leading Yellowhammer News’ lifestyle content. Find her on Instagram at @juliasayers or email her at julia@yellowhammernews.com.